|United Methodism is Growing in Lithuania and Latvia|
By William K. Quick
The reestablished United Methodist Churches in Latvia and Lithuania continue to grow numerically and to expand their social ministries despite the financial ‘squeeze’ caused by their nations’ entry into the European Economic Community and the decline of the American dollar.
Representatives of these Baltic churches reported to some 125 people from a Lithuania-Latvia church support network gathered at Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville. They told of both forming new congregations and increasing their community services.
The annual gathering of the Latvia-Lithuania Initiative is sponsored by the Evangelization and Church Growth Program Unit of the General Board of Global Ministries in cooperation with World Methodist Evangelism, which is part of the World Methodist Council. Partner Churches is a program of the mission board and Connecting Congregations emerged from the World Methodist Council.
Methodist Churches in the two countries were closed and properties confiscated by the Communists in the 1940’s. Following the fall of the Iron Curtain, United Methodism was restored in Latvia in 1991 and in Lithuania in 1995.
Membership and church attendance continue to increase. At the end of 2004, almost 4,000 persons were connected to the 25 United Methodist congregations in the two countries. Estonia, the neighboring Baltic state and the only country in the former Soviet Union where Methodism continued under communism and survived, currently reports 29 local churches.
United Methodism in both Latvia and Lithuania faces financial challenges in part because of world economic conditions, including the decreased value of the dollar in relation to the local currencies. Recommendations were made for increased support by Partner Churches and Connecting Congregations. The General Board of Global Ministries will also be asked to consider ways to increase program support and pastoral salary supplements.
The Rev. Chet Cataldo, Lithuania district superintendent, reported that five Lithuanian pastors are currently serving the thirteen churches in that country. The 10th anniversary of the re-opening of United Methodism will be celebrated on August 27, 2005 in the Sanciai Church in Kaunas.
Among the new social ministries announced were a Child Care Center housed in the First United Methodist Church in Riga, Latgvia. Called ‘the BAMBI Center’, it is part of an ambitious outreach program to provide shelter and training for unwed mothers. The Hope Center, located in the heart of Latvia’s Capitol City, is the former site of the Methodist Children’s Home, which was closed by the Soviets. The project is expected to cost $250,000 when completed.
A 20-acre property on the Baltic Sea, near the Latvia port city of Liepaja, has been purchased and will be dedicated later this year. Camp Wesley, as it is christened, will become the site of youth and adult camping opportunities for Lithuania and Latvia. The North Alabama, Holston and Red Bird Missionary Conferences have pledged financial support to renovate and build facilities at the camp, which will become operational this summer.
The Rev. Herbert Lange, a native of Lithuania and a retired clergy member of the Florida Conference, and his wife Sylvia, of Tarpon Springs, FL, will work to build Methodism’s first house of worship in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. The Rev. Denny Buwalda announced that the West Michigan Conference, as a part of its new church development ministries, will raise $500,000 over the next several years to assist in developing the Vilnius congregation.
New, enlarged, or restored building projects are underway or planned in Birzai, Klaipeda, Siauliau and Taurage, all in Lithuania. New congregations are being organized in Panevezys and Ukmerge.
Bishop Will Willimon of the Birmingham Area spoke three times during the weekend. Dr. S T Kimbrough, Jr. of the General Board of Global Ministries introduced the new Lithuanian United Methodist Hymnal, which will be available for the August 2005 anniversary celebration.
The 2006 Lithuania-Latvia Initiative gathering will be held at Mt. Lebanon United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh, PA.
*Dr. William K. Quick is coordinator of Partner Church Ministry for Latvia
and Lithuania and a member of the Executive Committee of the World Methodist
Date posted: May 03, 2005